We are fortunate to live in a time when there are a multitude of choices. So, how you choose to spend your money is a straightforward way of reflecting your values and principles. When deciding which gemstones to place in your fine jewelry, you are no longer limited to mined gems that may be associated with moral and environmental problems. Happily, there are ethical alternatives to buying mined diamonds: lab-grown diamonds and moissanite.
Moissanites, as most of us know them, are gemstones created from human-made silicon carbide crystals. Naturally occuring mineral silicon carbide is extremely scarce, so, there are no mined Moissanites. Because of its rarity, all forms of industrial, commercial, and decorative Moissanite are made from synthetic materials.
Silicon carbide, or SiC, was unexpectedly created in 1891 by an American inventor named Edward G. Acheson, while he was actually attempting to make diamonds! He wound up with a bright green crystal that had a Mohs hardness close to that of diamond. Acheson named his new compound Carborundum, patented it and sold it as an alternative to diamond dust for polishing gems.
The mineral form of silicon carbide was discovered two years later in 1893, by French chemist, Henri Maisson, for whom it was eventually named. Maisson detected silicon carbide quite by accident while examining rock samples from a meteor crater in Canyon Diablo, Arizona. Maisson initially mistook the mineral for diamond, a pure carbon material, but later identified it as silicon carbide. He also made silicon carbide in his lab, using methods different from Acheson, and, like Acheson, Maisson had repeatedly attempted to create diamonds, with no success.
Because of its hardness (9.25 on the Mohs scale, compared to 10 for diamond) and thermal qualities, silicon carbide powders and crystals have been used in various industrial and commercial applications since the 1890s.
Fast forward 100 years to Research Triangle Park, NC and silicon carbide would be transformed by Cree, Inc into crystals large enough and pure enough to be used as gemstones in luxury jewelry. Moissanite gems are used by many people as low cost diamond alternatives in engagement rings and other jewelry, which is why they are sometimes referred to as simulated or imitation diamonds. Moissanite jewelry companies recognize that a diamond alternative, like Moissanite, is the goal for some buyers, but they also suggest that moissanite gems can be bought for their own attributes.
Because of their lower cost, Moissanites can be a great option for couples looking for an engagement ring, but who can’t yet afford a diamond. Moissanites have a high dispersive power, about 2.5 times that of diamonds. The higher power creates a rainbow effect much more intense than in a diamond. Whether or not someone prefers the brighter, more colorful effect is a matter of preference. People who love this look often mention the gems’ brilliant sparkle or fire. Those who don’t prefer it sometimes describe it as having the appearance of a disco ball, which is more noticeable in stones over 1.5 carats.
When purchasing a moissanite gem, the carat size may be included, but they are graded and priced solely by color and weight. Moissanites are graded for color on the GIA diamond color grading scale and fall within the D-K range: D-E-F in the colorless range, G-H-I in the near colorless range, and J-K in the faint hue range. By contrast, diamonds are graded by color from D-Z on the same scale.
A few other possible appearance issues in Moissanite can include: a shadow effect, caused by its birefringence; stones that take on a yellow or grayish hue in certain light; and Moissanites that have curved, string-like inclusions, which lab-grown diamonds don’t have. Various people report their Moissanite stones develop an “oil slick” appearance over time, which is caused by chemicals used in the production process, however, this can be taken care of by regular cleaning and polishing.
Instead of settling for a diamond look-alike, many people searching for their engagement ring prefer an actual diamond, but one with purer standards than a mined diamond. This is where lab-created diamonds really shine.
Despite the fascinating historical convergence of diamond and moissanite, they are not the same stones. Like lab-grown moissanites, lab diamonds were initially only created and used in various industrial applications, until researchers at General Electric created the first gem-quality stones in 1970. However, this shared history is where moissanites and lab diamonds diverge. Lab-created diamonds are not diamond simulants or alternatives: they are actual diamonds. They are 100% physically, chemically, and optically identical to mined diamonds and they are rated and scored for the 4 Cs by independent gemologists in exactly the same manner and in the same labs.
These ethically-grown diamonds cost, on average, 30% less than mined diamonds, where Moissanites are even less expensive, due to the fact that they are diamond simulants.
The important difference between lab grown diamonds and mined diamonds are their origins. Mined diamonds continue to be controversial due to ethical and environmental concerns inherent in the mining process, whereas lab diamonds originate in controlled environments, making them free of the immoral considerations associated with diamond mining.
The same conditions and processes that created mined diamonds beneath the earth’s surface over millions of years happen in a fraction of the time to create lab diamonds, using one of two methods. Chemical Vapor Deposition, or CVD, is a technique whereby diamond seeds are placed into a chamber with carbon-based gases, then heated to 800 degrees Celsius. The heat causes the gases to break down, the carbon atoms separate, then fix themselves to the diamond seed which slowly crystallizes, forming a raw diamond gemstone. This is the preferred process for many ethical jewelers.
An alternate is the HPHT, or, High-Pressure High-Temperature method, where a diamond seed is covered in a layer of carbon graphite then subjected to temperatures up to 1500 degrees Celsius. It is pressurized to around 1.5 million pounds per square inch, when the graphite melts and coats the seed, allowing crystals to grow and a raw diamond to develop.
Ethically grown diamonds offer a fresh start for the diamond jewelry industry and a clear choice when considering diamond jewelry. These higher standard diamonds are available in the various cuts, clarity, colors, and carats that define the beauty of diamond gems.
Selecting an ethically grown diamond allows you to make a purchase that reflects your values and principles. We have more choices than ever before and you can be proud to create new beginnings with higher standard diamonds.